Columns

Gimme Shelter: Just do it

Mary and I got our second shots two weeks ago. A happy time, but slightly anti-climactic compared to receiving the first dose, which was euphoric. “I want to live forever,” Mary said on February 18, as we walked a path at the Stony Brook University campus, snow drifting down like a blessing.

I had called a state number in early January and waited. And waited. The robot would come on telling me that all lines were busy and to hang on. I listened to a lame version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (were they intentionally mocking me?) cooking a simmering stew of rage and despair within me. When the robot returned to say after 20 minutes that I should call back later,

I immediately called again. And again. Sheer pigheadedness. Tell me to wait? You want waiting? I’ll show you waiting, you …

Six hours later (yes), I was speaking to a personable, professional man named Jude who took down all our information and scheduled us for the Pfizer vaccine at Stony Brook.

Hey, Jude! Take a sad song and make it better.

The Stony Brook events were remarkable for their planning, from parking to check-in to vaccination and exits. The people, from the National Guard troops to those in hallways giving directions, were polite, engaged and efficient.

Perhaps that was part of the euphoria. Something big, complex and government-managed had worked. Same as on Shelter Island. Another part of the euphoria was a nationwide coming together to defeat a plague.

But for some, what I’m saying is nonsense, since it’s all a scam, a hoax, and/or a product of a radical left-wing cabal that wants to take away our freedoms and reduce us all to lab rats.

According to a recently released PBS/Marist poll, close to 50% of Republican men will not get vaccinated, and about three Americans in 10 overall will refuse the potentially life-saving shots.

They’re exercising their rights as free Americans, they say. Just as some refuse to wear masks because no one can tell them how to live. This is the result of an amazingly successful campaign to politicize a public health emergency that had caught the party in power flat-footed.

The campaign was fought on many fronts, including saying infections, hospitalizations and deaths really weren’t happening, and/or the scientists were exaggerating.

Former Supervisor Gary Gerth had his second shot last week at the school, and like everyone else, praised the town officials for running a smooth operation. He felt a sense of relief, he said.

But the two-shot inoculations separated by weeks was not a big deal, he said. “I had seven shots in one day when I was in the Navy,” Gary said. “We called it the Flying 7.”

I asked what his arm felt like after that siege of needles. “I wish it was just my arm.”

In addition to arms and other places, “We got shots in the spine for meningitis. With a gun, not a needle. If you moved it could do some damage.”

Gary said it was the right thing for him to do, but he respected people who didn’t want to be vaccinated, saying it was a matter of personal choice and “the government might have overreached.”

I respectfully disagree. Is it overreach to demand other public health measures, such as speed limits, seatbelt requirements, airbags, blood-alcohol limits, non-smoking areas, food and drug regulation?

But why argue? You get the feeling no one will be convinced. However, we should try.

In the 18th century, smallpox rampaged through New England and points south, with wave after wave of epidemics striking all segments of society. According to a 2014 Harvard University publication, in Boston, a city of 11,000 in 1721, 6,000 people were infected and 850 died from the disease. When a vaccine was introduced to the city, the number of deaths plummeted to double digits.

A letter that recently surfaced from that time and reported on in this newspaper last autumn has eerie similarities to what we’re going through now. William Nicoll II, writing to his nephew, Jonathan Nicoll Havens, made the case for inoculation against smallpox, urging his nephew to be vaccinated.

Mr. Nicoll, who sent the letter on Dec. 14, 1770, had just recently been released from a Shelter Island “Pock House,” a place of quarantine against the spread of smallpox, usually a house separated from a town or village. Mr. Nicoll had also subsequently been inoculated against the disease, which was a fairly novel medical procedure in those days.

Isolation was thought by many to be the only defense against the disease and vaccination was a cause of extreme controversy, as it is today, with all sorts of spurious motives attached to a tool to protect public health.

Mr. Nicoll wrote to his nephew: “I was only sick enough not to be well, now after such an old fellow has run the Gauntlet of Innoculation, and besides being therewith a very bad subject with a Rheumatick Constitution and the shakes of a severe fit of sickness, with what fare even you in full health and with the vigour of youth on your side, I say how can you hesitate one moment, when your country and family demand your assistance, to free yourself from one of the greatest scourges …”

No arguments from me. But with respect: Get vaccinated.